The Hong Kong Efficiency

I have been to Hong Kong a number of times over the past over two decades or so, but I have not been there for the past few years.

When I went last week, should I say I was impressed? Yes, nothing much has changed in terms of efficiency and fast movement. By efficiency, I mean that almost everything happens in clockwork fashion. The train from the airport is the most efficient way to transport yourself to the heart of town, and I wonder why people, especially many foreigners, continue to use the expensive taxis. I could purchase a return ticket from airport to Kowloon and back for less than SGD 20, which I thought was a very reasonable fare for a very effective use of one’s time.

By fast movement, I mean the people who are moving through the subway system, malls and everywhere else. I could not see a single slacker anywhere. For Hong Kong people, time is money, and they appear on an everlasting mission to make money all the time. Even more than the Singaporeans. People were on a rush, moving in and out of activities everywhere – I could feel the buzz in the air. The escalators were overloaded. It appeared to me that people did not wish to miss a “trade” – they were all traders in a sense.

With a GDP per capita of over USD 44,000 Hong Kong is one of the most prosperous countries (Sorry! – it is now part of China as a special administrative region) in the world. You can see wealth everywhere, in the malls which are glitzier than those of Singapore, in the cars zooming along the roads, in the real estate prices (the most expensive in the entire world), in the high-end restaurants, and finally in the prices which cabbies charge you! At an average of USD 3,000 per sq foot of condominium space, and still climbing, it is hard to buy anything more than 500 Sq Ft and most Hong Kong folks make do with very small apartments. Cars are expensive but much cheaper than in Singapore. Parking space is priced the worst – there have been reports that car parking spaces have been sold for more than USD 1M.

If you recall, the Eighties saw the emergence of four economic tigers – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. All these countries have been successful due to their early recognition of the fact that people need bread foremost, and nations need free trade. They also recognized the importance of manufacturing in building up their economic bases. The fundamental premise that economics should take precedence over everything else constituted the foundation of these economies. It proved to be prescient and hugely successful.

Hong Kong is also the city with the most skyscrapers in the world. They continue to build very tall buildings, and have not stopped building. The influx of people from China with huge amounts of cash has driven prices up. A decent meal for two in a nice restaurant is likely to set you back by SGD 120 to 150. A more advanced meal in an elegant restaurant with drinks et al, is likely to cost you in the range of SGD 300 to 400. I do not believe Singapore is the most expensive city in all of Asia Pacific, after seeing taxi and restaurant prices in Tokyo and Hong Kong recently.

With a relentless focus on the pursuit of perfection and efficiency, Hong Kong has built one of the most resilient economies in the world which is still growing. Of course, I complained about lack of credit card payment facility in taxis which is highly inconvenient for tourists who are forced to convert their respective currencies to Hong Kong Dollars. Uber is not that prevalent, though I used it and got a Tesla electric car to ride which was fabulous. The famous Didi taxi app from China works in Hong Kong, but there was no English version and the map was portrayed inaccurately so I could not use it. The powerful taxi union of Hong Kong is stopping the Hong Kong Government from introducing modern technologies – that was the only conclusion I could draw. When I used Uber, it was not cheaper than using the normal taxi, leading me to conclude that the taxi union has forced Uber to raise prices (which happened indeed).

British legacy can be witnessed in several areas including trade unionism!

That Hong Kong is very expensive can also be seen when you use a taxi to cross the tunnel under the sea. It can cost upwards of SGD 12 per crossing, which is very high. If everything is added, one can see the reason why Hong Kong is much more expensive than Singapore. Taxis, tolls, restaurants, and real estate are cheaper in Singapore. Only cars are more expensive. So I do not understand how Singapore is the most expensive city in the world (as some reports have stated).

Overall, Hong Kong is a great city with unrivalled business efficiency and fabulous views across the harbour (and almost from any high tower). In the night, it provides an unbeatable view – the glitziest in the world.

Have a wonderful weekend,


Vijay Srinivasan

9th June 2018


Amazing Formula Rossa Thrill Ride of a Lifetime

This time I was really scared.

My son persuaded me to at least take a look at the ride video on YouTube. Take a look for yourself:

Ferrari’s Alonso and Massa ride world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World

Formula Rossa POV – World’s Fastest Roller Coaster Ferrari World Abu Dhabi UAE Onride

Scary, right?

Well, my son and I went to the Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi last week, and I can tell you that the real experience of riding on the Formula Rossa was not any less scarier than the videos that you just saw. The website of Ferrari World is at Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

Formula Rossa is currently rated as the fastest roller coaster in the world with a top speed of 239 KMPH which is achieved in less than 5 seconds of extremely fast acceleration using a technique used on aircraft carriers to launch jet planes on a very short runway. For the initial run, I chose to sit on the very back row of the Formula Rossa – though my son objected. I told him that I need to get a “hang” of it! Even while sitting on the back row, the ride was instantly terrifying with a speed which I have never experienced in my life. My heart beat increased and my heart was pounding when we finished the ride. The air pressure on the face and body was immense. The cork screw turn from the very top was scary to say the least. But the best part was the initial acceleration and the steep climb up.

For the second time experience, my son insisted on sitting in the very first row (like sitting on the very edge of the nose of a fast speeding bullet). I asked for time to think and so went around on other rides and eventually came back to Formula Rossa ride. I agreed to sit with my son on the first row of the ride. And, it was the most terrifying ride I have ever undertaken in a theme park ride. I could not even move my hand, the air pressure was too much not allowing any movement (I wanted to hold the plastic spectacle wrapper which was holding my spectacle glasses). While I managed to keep my eyes open for the initial 4 to 5 seconds, I could not do so once the roller coaster climbed up on to its steep ascent of over 50 metres and then accelerated with heavy momentum on the cork screw. I tried to open for a sneak view but decided to keep it shut as the tracks were speeding towards us at enormous speed (!!!). I only opened my eyes towards the last 5 or 6 seconds of the ride, but came out smiling as the thrill gene in my body seems to have grabbed its rightful sync with the Formula Rossa!

This is a fantastic ride, and I would strongly encourage you to take the first row, if not in the first attempt. It is a great feeling to almost feel what a Formula 1 race driver would experience on the race track (and more). It is overall a fabulous experience and very much worth the visit to Ferrari World (which is located at Abu Dhabi, some 75 minutes car ride from Dubai).

Hold tight and enjoy the speed, acceleration and momentum of the Formula Rossa – the world’s fastest roller coaster as on date.


Vijay Srinivasan

3rd December 2016






Dispatch from Dubai

I wanted to send this one out before I returned from Dubai, however here it is – a dispatch on the cost dynamics of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

There is no income or sales tax in Dubai – there is just no taxation of any kind. So that would be a big incentive for most people as a draw to go and work in Dubai. Sure, it is a nice, and I would say a great feeling when you pay no taxes at all to the government. There are very few places in the world which provide such a strong incentive.

However, the picture is not so simple. Almost all items that one needs to consume are expensive, and even more expensive when compared to Singapore. I think this is true even when a comparison is made with Hong Kong prices of consumption items. May be only Tokyo is more expensive than Dubai.

A Cafe Latte in Starbucks costs 19 AED (Dirhams, the U.A.E. currency), which translates to SGD 7.5 (as against SGD 5.5 in Starbucks Singapore). A decent lunch at a foodcourt in one of the fancy malls of Dubai costs the equivalent of SGD 20 to 25 as against a typical comparable lunch at SGD 11 to 15 in a Singapore mall. All tourist attractions are heavily expensive when it comes to the entrance fees. A typical entrance fee to a theme park or water park costs around AED 270 or SGD 106 – whereas a good price that can be obtained in Singapore for a similar attraction ranges from SGD 40 to 60. Taxi prices are more or less comparable, though the base fare from the Dubai International Airport is AED 25 (or SGD 10) as compared to SGD 6.20 (SGD 3 surcharge from Changi and base fare of SGD 3.20) as base fare from Singapore Changi Airport. There is no apparent reason for such a high base fare.

So, apparently, what the government does not collect is being collected by product and service providers in Dubai via increased prices. The argument that they have to operate with imported labour (mostly Filipinos in service industries) does not fly as the situation is not very different in Singapore for lower-end jobs. The real estate prices are comparable, so that argument also does not work. So, it has to be only the motive of higher profit from the flow of tourists and resident foreigners that is driving higher prices in Dubai.

I have not had the time to do a detailed research on retail prices at Dubai malls (though I bought a couple of items), but had the opportunity to kill some good time at the fabulous shopping areas of Dubai International Airport before departing to Singapore. The liquor prices at the Duty Free Shops were lower than in DFS Changi Shops, and the chocolate prices were marginally lower though the variety of chocolates available was vastly superior in Dubai. I ended up buying good amount of chocolates which are not available in Singapore. The electronic product prices were more or less similar – again, the variety of offerings in Dubai was superior. For example, I saw six different brands of drones in a single shop with almost all accessories as compared to just two brands in a typical Singapore electronics shop. Drones are hot selling items and I am developing an interest as my son is keen to try out the same, and will eventually buy one raptor kind of drone with electronic eyes quite soon.

Overall, living in Dubai is an expensive proposition but then residents save on income and other taxes though paying higher prices for consumer items. Interesting, isn’t it? More news on Dubai soon, it is a place worth visiting for all. Abu Dhabi should not be forgotten either, it seems to be more organized and apparently has more wealth than Dubai itself.

Welcome to more expenses as you travel the world!!!


Vijay Srinivasan

3rd December 2016

What a Summer !

I was visiting Chennai last week.

From an average of 34 deg C in Mumbai, the increase was to the extent of some 8 deg C in Chennai ! While I am not a newcomer to Chennai, it was made clear to me (by my relatives and friends) that I had landed in what was the “Agni” week of the Chennai Summer. “Agni” means fire !

The simmering heat during the peak sun was barely bearable, but the worst thing was that the electricity board cut off the power supply to residential premises for some two hours every day – different parts of the city have the power cut at different times of the day. In my house, it was from 2 PM to 4 PM. In some areas, it was from 8 to 10 AM and in most other areas, it was from 10 AM to 12 Noon. You can imagine the torture when you are at home or office and the air conditioner stops working !

I noticed that most residential premises have invested in a unique contraption – the “inverter”, which provides electricity during the power cut for a duration of 2 to 4 hours (depending on battery capacity and the number of rooms/lights/fans to be covered). The approximate cost of such a device is some INR 12,000 (USD 220) for addressing the needs of the living room and one bedroom (an approximate estimation only). So, in Chennai, a family has to invest in such devices, import water (as water supply is equally erratic) at high cost, pay for inflation in fruits and vegetables, pay one of the highest prices for petrol in the country, suffer the heat, and still sustain one of the highest real estate prices in the country !

This is not to complain – Chennai is far better organized than most metropolitan cities in India, has better quality roads, is in the process of completing the metro rail network, has a booming IT (Information Technology) economy now supplemented by a fast-emerging automotive industry, has a conscientious workforce, and is challenged with much less crime than other States of India. In devising its model for development of the State, the Tamil Nadu State comes only next to Gujarat. So, overall, the situation is good and should improve vastly if the State Government manages to fix the power situation and continues to provide incentives to the manufacturing and IT industries.

But, can we buy the weather ? Of course, not. The prudent thing is to ensure continuous power supply to both residential and industrial customers across the State.

Now, I am back in the 32 – 34 deg C Summer in Mumbai and surely, I did not feel the heat wave during the day though it was slightly uncomfortable if one is over-dressed !

Welcome to the Summer ! Enjoy it with cold buttermilk and fresh juices !!


Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2012


Character of a City

My Mumbai friends used to tell me often that “Mumbai has charmed them in ways other cities have not been able to, Mumbai pulls them into its DNA irrespective of where they are from and they become part and parcel of its local culture”.

While I have not really taken into that kind of charm that easily, Mumbai does inflict an influence on any visitor in more ways than one. Especially South Mumbai. One gets a positive sense of the moving culture and business-like approach in Mumbai, that one would not be able to get that easily in other cities of India.

Montreal in Quebec province of Canada, and the second largest city of Canada (after Toronto), is one such city. Recently I spent some time in Montreal, which is a rather nice city. It is French-speaking, but is also bi-lingual, so no problem in getting around with people. It is a beautiful city with French influence all over the place.

The architecture is reminiscent of an European city, with modern buildings interspersed with old architecturally radiant structures which attract attention. Montreal is easy to get around, most people can walk, take a bike, or ride a metro. It is a well-laid out city with good urban planning. I enjoyed walking around the city, though the weather in May was not helpful – it was cloudy and occasionally raining, with temperatures as low as 9 deg Celsius, a rather low figure for summer.

I could not see many Asians, except in the university areas. But I could see several Asian restaurants. The food scene in Montreal is as lively as its culture, with a great variety of cuisine available. I had the opportunity to enjoy a selection which was absolutely delightful.

I also noticed that shopping in Montreal was not as expensive as in other North American cities, and even living costs were lower. Grocery shopping was not more expensive than it is in India today ! That was a surprising discovery. Ofcourse, it goes without saying that the supermarkets were much better organized and had a wide variety and selection of stuff as compared to India. Organic produce appeared to be popular !

Will publish some photos in due course,


Vijay Srinivasan
28 May 2011

Lavasa – a first impression

Lavasa is a hill city in the Western Ghats of India, approximately an hour and thirty minutes drive from Pune, and approximately four hours drive from Mumbai. Lavasa has been heavily advertised over the past couple of years, and I had been surprised opening a copy of the Time magazine and seeing a beautiful ad on Lavasa.

Controversy has plagued Lavasa of late, with the Ministry of Environment of Government of India stopping all construction work at Lavasa due to the potential damage to the fragile and rich environmental ecosystem in the Western Ghats.

There is no construction going on currently. But I did not see any major evidence of damage to the environment. The Dasve town is neat and the roads are pretty, for a change (as compared to other hill stations in India). The lake front has been done up quite well, and there are many eating places in an alfresco fashion laid out nicely along the water front.

I liked the place, though the weather was a bit warm. The infrastructure has come up quite well, and if the vision of the developer is allowed to be fully implemented, I have no doubt that a world-class hill city would come alive in its full splendour in the next couple of years.

Please take a look – “LAVASA” , and “VISITING LAVASA”


Vijay Srinivasan
30th April 2011

What a Contrast…….

The roads in Dubai and the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system are world class. While I was aware of the road quality in Dubai (though not completely impressed with the road sound which is higher than it should be at high speeds) due to my past several trips, I was amazed at the manner and the speed at which the MRT system has been completed in record time (looks like they did it in 2 years !).

And, compare that with the roads in Mumbai and the struggle to implement the MRT system. It is accepted that we are talking here about two cities with widely differing characteristics and infrastructure. Mumbai probably has four times the population of Dubai at the minimum. And has far too many complications to be controlled as effectively as a Dubai or a Singapore, no doubt !

However, the vast depths of the non-stop undulations on the most unremarkable roads in any major city occur in Mumbai and the difference is immediately palpable once your car pulls out of the Mumbai Airport on to its roads. Constant ups and downs. Craters. Never-ending construction work with no safety precautions or meagre safety to say the least. Confusing traffic signs. Police at every corner to catch motorists. Uneducated and foolish drivers, who risk their lives to cross a traffic signal (sometimes they do look well educated, wearing ties, etc.). Pedestrians who constantly keep crossing the roads, not heeding the traffic signals either. Pedestrians who even cross high-speed highways. Accidents involving heavy lorries. I can go on and on……..

None of this you can see in Dubai, which is truly an aspiring world-class city with almost impeccable infrastructure. My only complaint is that their carbon footprint appears to be on the higher side, given the number of malls (including the current biggest mall in the world). They can’t help it as their economy depends mostly on tourists.

Well, the contrast between the two cities cannot be more striking. Of course, the airports are vastly different as well. Dubai’s Airport is known as one of the most shopper-friendly and efficient airports in the world. It was painful earlier to get through Mumbai Airport, but these days it is easier to get out (though not to “get in”) of Mumbai Airport, breezing through the Immigration and Customs. However, the quality of the two airports is starkly different, for there to see by everyone – Mumbai has a long, long way to reach the level of sophistication, friendliness, infrastructure that the Dubai airport can easily boast of itself.

Hope we will catch up one day, may be within the next five years !


Vijay Srinivasan
2nd February 2011

The Chennai Impact

I was in Chennai for couple of days.

The orderliness on the roads seems to be getting better, except at places where there are no traffic lights. As usual, in India they do not know how to tackle roundabouts. But for most of the time, I saw a pretty decent traffic sense. Lane discipline is lacking, but that is because there are few roads with lanes clearly drawn ; secondly, the drivers try to squeeze in between lanes as is the normal practice all over India, since they are afraid of stuck behind slow moving vehicles and so create their own lane !

But, traffic lights are honoured. And I believe that is a very critical behaviour, unlike in Mumbai suburbs where people randomly beat signals. It will be fatal if vehicle drivers do not respect red traffic signal lights and the pedestrian crossings. While things are far better in South Mumbai, the situation in suburbian Mumbai is real bad, but not as bad as it is in Delhi where might is the only right !

Coming back to Chennai, it appeared to me that consumers are willing to pay for governance and orderliness. How else can one explain the ruling real estate prices in Chennai, which almost approach those of Mumbai suburbs ? We cannot just explain it away on the returning NRI population, as for instance Hyderabad has a larger NRI population out there, but the real estate prices are depressed. The agitation for splitting the state has further worsened the situation.

Chennai has hot weather for most of the year, except for may be 3 months when there are rains, the evenings are somewhat pleasant, but it is still sultry all around the year. So, it was surprising to note that apartments which hardly have any facilities (apart from parking) are being quoted at Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,500 per sq foot in the not so central parts of the city. In the OMR area, the prices are still depressed, smarting from the economic downturn of Q4/2008 till now.

I met a couple of friends yesterday, who shared with me that there is good demand in the city and rates are not going to come down irrespective of what RBI is going to do or not going to do in terms of interest rates. The demand is driving the prices up, unlike in certain other cities where emotion and perception are moving the prices upwards. In Mumbai’s Western Suburbs, the prices have shot up to beyond Rs 9,000 per sq foot, with an apartment carpet area efficiency of only 70 to 75%. Which means that you are paying far beyond the quoted rates. I would be surprised if anyone can get a well-located 1,000 sq feet apartment in the Western Suburbs for less than Rs 100 Lacs. In Chennai, it is going to cost not less than Rs 80 Lacs. In Bangalore, may be it is now costing around Rs 60 Lacs, despite it being the IT Capital of the country.

So, Chennai is rocking, and may soon catch up with the Financial Capital of the country in terms of real estate prices. I also noticed that the cars on the roads are mostly Skodas, Toyotas, Hondas and Marutis. A sprinkling of Mercs and BMWs can be seen. Things are surely changing in staid Chennai. New malls are sprouting up, people seem to be spending.

The airport is lagging behind, not getting fixed quickly though. Hyderabad is leading in this respect, and Mumbai is shining with its upgraded terminals.

In a nutshell, Chennai is the place to watch in the near future.


Vijay Srinivasan
13th Feb 2010

Cold Weather

I was in Delhi the past few days, and really enjoyed the 8 deg Celsius in the late evenings, and around 14 – 15 deg Celsius during day time. In fact, I walked out of my hotel without the jacket, as I really wanted to see how it was outside, and it was great ! The only downside was the thick fog during the mornings, which was okay for pedestrians, but not so good apparently for flights, cars and even trains !!

Well, I don’t get this kind of weather even for a day at Mumbai, and so it was making a big difference to me. I enjoy cold weather and always wanted to understand how people cope with it. During my many travels, I have seen sub-zero weather conditions several times – like in Russia during February, Europe, China (Beijing) and North East United States. People there make arrangements in advance to prepare for the snow and wind, etc., and the logistics are geared up to tackle adverse conditions on roads, airports, et al.

However, in Delhi and North India, though every year it is the same pattern of cold weather, precaution and preparations are lacking. We cannot blame weather for all the mishaps. Flight cancellations and disruptions have been happening almost every day over the past fortnight or so, as the fog is affecting visibility seriously. But I thought that the aviation authorities promised “all-weather” landing when they invested in very high-tech radars for the Delhi Airport a few years ago. In fact, Delhi is the only airport in the country having such sophisticated systems for guiding and landing aircraft. But what does the average passenger experiences ? Delays and delays. In fact couple of days ago, the software for the radars failed, delaying operations at Delhi Airport for over 3 hours.

So, one logic that can be derived is that the “human training” element is lacking in its ability to prepare people to deal with tough weather conditions. May be the Indian Army knows something more, since it has dealt with even more severe weather at the Himalayas for many decades.

Nevertheless, coming back to my point, it is a great time to go to the North, may be to Gulmarg ! Skiing, anyone ??

Now back at Mumbai with its slightly windy evenings, but daytime temparatures in late twenties !


Vijay Srinivasan
16th Jan 2009

The New Face of Kolkata (Calcutta)

It has been nearly four years since I last visited Calcutta.

Calcutta is the West Bengal State HQ. It is the largest metropolis in India, with probably close to 18M inhabitants ! Approaching the size of Mexico City !!

I was pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness of the Calcutta Airport. It was neat, clean and bright.

I was also surprised with the even quality of the highway to my hotel (towards Salt Lake City). It is far better than anything I have seen so far. Well, are we in Communist Country ? Yes, West Bengal has the longest running Communist Government in the Country for over five decades ! The Communists have now learnt Capitalism and are found to be wooing capital investments from leading industrialists around the world. Well, the investments are surely needed, as people need employment, not just freedom and politics.

It is a good change. People everywhere want economic growth, not slogans and empty promises. Bread is more important than intellectual wisdom. Some of my elite friends may not agree, but to everyone his own. I strongly believe that Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs is very valid in today’s world. Let us first satisfy the poor people – let us provide good employment, good food, good habitat, and good education. Well, good and clean drinking water and environment as well. These are the first things a good and efficient government should provide for, not just talk, which is cheap and easily delivered.

I am happy that Calcutta and hopefully, West Bengal State are changing. I know that Bengalis are very capable, intellectual and hungry for employment. The global IT companies that I saw on the way from the airport are providing the much needed injection of capital and employment for very talented people of West Bengal. That is great news, and let the dollars keep flowing !

Have a great week !


Vijay Srinivasan
3rd Feb 2009

Camp : Kolkata